Wednesday, July 17, 2024
InterviewForage, a Genebank, and climate initiatives in Ethiopia’s stagnant agricultural productivity

Forage, a Genebank, and climate initiatives in Ethiopia’s stagnant agricultural productivity

As the world faces crucial issues like food security, climate change, and the transformation of food systems, the livestock sector offers potential solutions to the challenges involved with keeping a population well fed.

For decades, organizations like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI), the Alliance of Biodiversity, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) have been crucial in maintaining and providing forage globally, including in Ethiopia.

On May 15, 2024, ILRI hosted an event under the theme of “Seeds for the Future: Food Systems Transformation with Climate and Environmental Benefits” to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ILRI’s Forage Genebank, International Day for Biodiversity, and the launch of exciting new forage and climate research.

The event marked four decades of ILRI and its partners’ pioneering work in preserving and utilizing forage biodiversity in low- and middle-income countries. The Forage Genebank, with over 18,000 accessions from nearly 2,000 species collected from more than 150 countries, continues to provide essential feed solutions for livestock globally.

During the conference, it was emphasized that forage diversity is central to ILRI’s Feed and Forage Development program, addressing challenges like inadequate and variable animal feed supplies and climate impacts, which limit livestock productivity in tropical regions.

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The importance of forage availability and diversity for livestock productivity, and the advantages offered by improved forage were highlighted. The conservation of forage genetic diversity also has significant economic benefits, particularly for disadvantaged regions worldwide.

The event gathered a notable group of participants, including Namukolo Covic (PhD), ILRI director-general’s representative to Ethiopia; Melesse Maryo (PhD), director-general and national focal person for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; and Yohannis Girma, animal and plant development sector advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and representative for Fikru Regassa (PhD), a state minister of Agriculture, among others.

At the event, Yohannis highlighted that Ethiopia has one of Africa’s largest livestock populations, emphasizing that animal well-being is crucial for economic reasons, cultural heritage, and food security. Despite the sector’s vast potential, Ethiopia faces numerous challenges threatening its sustainability, including low productivity, feed shortages, inefficient marketing systems, and climate-related disasters.

Yohannis emphasized programs such as the Climate Smart Livestock initiative, led by ILRI, are leading efforts to create a more resilient and sustainable livestock sector. He notes that Ethiopia has made considerable progress in incorporating climate change adaptation and resilience-building into its agricultural policies and strategies.

Abraham Tekle from The Reporter conversed with Yohannis about the pivotal role of agriculture in the nation’s economy, and its efforts to boost sector productivity, strategies implemented to develop improved forages, and the Genebank’s contributions to enhancing agricultural output in Ethiopia.

The Reporter: Agriculture is a key driver of Ethiopia’s economy, and the country is also renowned for its livestock and husbandry. What new initiatives has your Ministry implemented to enhance productivity in these sectors?

Yohannis Girma: Agriculture is not only the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, but also a fundamental necessity for our society. It plays a crucial role in generating foreign currency. Our livestock, though globally renowned and potentially rich, has not been performing up to its expected productivity. However, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s initiative over the past year and a half, the sector has shown signs of improvement. Ethiopia has ample human resources and favorable environmental conditions, which we are leveraging to drive significant achievements across various regional states, enhancing productivity across the sector’s value chain.

From a national perspective, we have implemented several strategic measures to boost livestock productivity. First, we are improving livestock breeding and species to enhance productivity. Second, we are focusing on forage, which constitutes 70 percent of livestock production costs, by setting plans to enhance its quality and availability. Third, improving livestock health is vital, and we are actively working towards this goal. These three measures are essential for advancing the country’s livestock development and productivity.

The new initiative, inspired by the success of the national ‘Green Legacy’ initiative, drives these measures. We are witnessing better results and making progress towards our goals. Forage plays a critical role in achieving these objectives. Ethiopia has vast pastures, industrial waste products, and crop residues that serve as forage sources. Additionally, the Genebank is instrumental in improving forage quality by producing protein-rich forages that enhance livestock productivity. It has significantly impacted livestock productivity in Ethiopia.

What are the key initiatives the Ministry is undertaking to improve the agricultural services and its productivity?

Our Ministry is intensifying efforts on extension services and productivity. We are training extension workers in each region, who then train, demonstrate, and teach model farmers to utilize forages effectively and increase productivity. Simultaneously, we are creating platforms to encourage private sector investment in establishing Genebanks that produce high-quality, protein-rich forage.

What additional strategies is the Ministry implementing to enhance the use of forage for improved productivity?

The primary focus is to develop and distribute advanced forage for animal consumption, increasing their diversity across the country. As discussed at the conference and mentioned earlier, we have historically underutilized our resources. However, we have now identified and evaluated over 22 advanced forage types, distributing them to users. Despite this progress, we still face challenges in effectively gathering and advancing these forages to maximize productivity.

Under the ‘Ye-Lemate Tirufat’ initiative, we aim to improve the productivity of milk, chicken meat, and eggs in the agricultural sector. As a Ministry, we set a goal for each person to consume 200 liters of milk per year, but the current average is only 66 liters. To achieve this, we must triple our current production, making the increased cultivation and production of forages an urgent priority.

Each farmer with a few livestock should have the opportunity to cultivate advanced forage types on their land to boost both livestock and crop productivity. However, much work remains at the national level. We need to commercialize forage production with enhanced research capabilities.

To address this, we have developed a national strategy that focuses on forage productivity, collection, and distribution across the country, considering the needs of both model and general farmers. This strategy ensures that all farmers can access advanced forage, helping them increase their productivity. Achieving this will require providing practical lessons and training to farmers.

Does the Ministry offer any specific programs or mechanisms to help farmers enhance their productivity?

The primary goal is to introduce farmers to the various types of forage produced by the Genebanks and raise awareness about their availability, purposes, and specific livestock uses. Increasing the variety of forages is crucial to achieving our objectives. As discussed in the conference, we currently have 22 advanced forage types developed through extensive laboratory research. To ensure these products reach their intended users, we have established mechanisms to demonstrate their benefits, provide support to farmers, and make the forages easily accessible in most parts of the country.

How does the Genebank contribute to enhancing farmers’ productivity and boosting the country’s overall agricultural output?

Our Genebank requires extensive support, including additional resources, advanced technology, and enhanced research. This support is essential for significant capacity building. To achieve this, we need ample resources, thorough research, and robust infrastructure. Sustainable collaboration with various stakeholders is crucial to ensure that collected, segregated, protected, and developed forages reach farmers across the country. We must work diligently to meet our goals, reinforcing the sector with adequate support and technological advancements. Ultimately, the Genebank needs maximum enhancement to improve its productivity.

How essential is the Genebank in helping farmers increase productivity amidst the challenges of climate change? What contributions has the Ministry made to support this effort?

The Genebank operates as an independent entity under the Biodiversity Institute, with its own organizational structure and activities. Despite its autonomy, there is close collaboration between the Genebank and our Ministry. Our role involves taking the advanced and researched forages developed by the Genebank and distributing them to farmers. We also provide training to farmers on how to effectively utilize these forages through an extension system. This collaborative effort is one of our primary responsibilities, ensuring that each sector, while operating independently, contributes to a unified goal of improving agricultural productivity and sustainability.

The most important thing is utilizing the resources that we have at hand properly and effectively, with the farmers given the proper services in time that could help them to be efficient and more productive. This can be done before or after the harvesting time and especially in times when we can collect ample byproducts and preserve as well as use them. This is one of the biggest responsibilities of our Ministry and we are doing it aggressively, with protecting the grazing lands from erosion as well as from climate changes.

It is important to highlight the critical role of the “Green Legacy” initiative in enhancing productivity. This initiative significantly contributes to the availability of forages and animal feeds. By focusing on environmental protection, it helps preserve existing forage species and raises farmers’ awareness about climate and environmental issues. This progress is achieved through continuous training and exposure, which our Ministry actively promotes. To improve efficiency and boost sector productivity, it is crucial to involve the private sector and provide support with the latest technology. We are committed to these efforts to ensure sustainable agricultural development.

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